Big ETF players remain on the sidelines amid possible milestone bitcoin fund approval

Vanguard believes crypto’s investment case is “weak,” while State Street appears preoccupied with digital assets custody

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The blockchain space is abuzz this week as nearly a dozen issuers gear up to introduce their various spot bitcoin ETFs. However, some of the largest fund groups are notably absent from the fracas, having chosen to remain on the sidelines.

Leading the charge among traditional finance giants is BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager. BlackRock holds a staggering amount of nearly $2.6 trillion in assets under management in its US ETFs, as reported by VettaFi data. Its proposed entry into the bitcoin ETF space is a monumental move, signaling the blending of decentralized assets with conventional investment strategies.

Invesco, another heavyweight, currently ranking fourth in ETF assets with $450 billion, has also joined the fray. The firm partnered with crypto-focused Galaxy Digital in 2021 and filed its latest spot bitcoin ETF proposal in 2023.

But not all big ETF players have chosen to pursue such a fund.

Vanguard, State Street and Charles Schwab — respectively managing $2.3 trillion, $1.1 trillion, and $315 billion, and ranked among the top five issuers by ETF assets globally — seem to have chosen not to get involved.

“Vanguard has no intent to offer a spot bitcoin ETF or any other crypto-related products,” a spokesperson told Blockworks Tuesday.

“Vanguard believes that the investment case for cryptocurrencies is weak,” the representative added. “Unlike stocks and bonds, most crypto assets lack intrinsic economic value and generate no cash flows. And cryptocurrencies’ high volatility runs counter to our goal of helping investors generate positive real returns over the long term.”

State Street Global Advisors — ranking third in US ETF assets under management — launched the industry’s first ETF, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY), in 1993. It offers the largest physically-backed ETF focused on gold, an asset bitcoin is sometimes compared to.

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But despite being known as an ETF pioneer, State Street opted not to be one of a dozen or so firms to enter the spot bitcoin ETF race.

“We continuously evaluate our lineup of ETFs, and at this time we do not offer a crypto ETF,” a spokesperson said Tuesday, declining to comment further.

Read more: State Street Sees ‘Significant Opportunity’ in Tokenization

Sumit Roy, a senior analyst for ETF.com, noted State Street’s standing as the world’s largest custodian and its build-out of digital asset-focused custody solutions. 

The firm had roughly $40 trillion in assets under custody and administration, as of Sept. 30. State Street launched its digital finance division in June 2021 and entered into a licensing agreement with Copper.co in March 2022 to develop a digital custody offering for institutions. 

“It’s possible that the firm is focusing its energy on that part of the ecosystem rather than getting involved in the crowded spot bitcoin ETF race,” Roy told Blockworks. “It’s hard to imagine that they will launch a spot bitcoin ETF in the future if they haven’t thrown their hat in the ring already.”

As for Charles Schwab, its asset management division too has not filed for a spot bitcoin ETF. 

David Botset, head of equity product management and innovation at Schwab Asset Management, told Blockworks in January 2022 the company was evaluating “opportunities such as spot cryptocurrency or blockchain technologies in the form of an ETF.” The firm launched an ETF that holds crypto-related stocks later that year.   

A Schwab spokesperson on Tuesday declined to comment on future crypto ETF plans.

“I don’t think anyone else will try to launch a vanilla spot bitcoin ETF in the future, but I do expect that there will be more creative funds that add other types of exposures on top of just bitcoin,” Roy said. “A covered call bitcoin ETF, for instance, is one we are likely to see in the future.”


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